Thalia was leaned against a porch column when Eric exited the once-proud Southern mansion.
“Eavesdropping, Thalia? Really?” Eric asked.
She answered in Greek. “Θα έπρεπε να ξέρω τι έχω να κάνω με τον Bill Compton [I needed to know what I am dealing with where Bill Compton is concerned].” She scoffed. “Είναι εξίσου παραπλανημένος για τη θέση του στην ιεραρχία μαζί σας όπως ήταν μαζί μου [He is just as deluded about his place in the pecking order with you as he was with me].”
“Ανησυχώ περισσότερο για το πώς βλέπει τη θέση του με τον Sookie [I am more concerned about how he views his place with Sookie],” Eric observed—also in Greek—as he and Thalia walked toward the woods.
“He is clearly a coward,” the vampiress continued in English since they were far enough away from the house that Bill couldn’t hear them anymore. “But a delusional and foolhardy one.”
“The worst kind,” Eric supplemented. “And—because of that—I want him in silver and in pain if he breaks any of the simple rules I’ve instructed him to follow,” he commanded, his tone deadly.
“Is he right? Would punishing him cause you problems with the queen?” Thalia asked.
“If problems arise, I will deal with them. I will not take any chances where Sookie’s well-being is concerned,” Eric responded. “Not any longer. Bill has been warned. He has been given his chance to leave Sookie in peace. I believe that she will cut all ties with him on Friday night. If he pursues her before or after their meeting, he will be proving that he is too much of a loose cannon to allow to survive, and even Sookie will understand,” he added firmly—as if he were willing that position into existence for the telepath.
“Yes. I believe her capable of perceiving that only a truly desperate and dangerous fool would defy you,” Thalia commented.
“Or attempt to make unauthorized contact with someone you are charged to protect,” Eric added with a smirk.
Thalia nodded in agreement. “Compton would have to be insane to do that—completely delusional.”
“Yes—which is why he would need to be restrained—with great prejudice—if he did. Until I could kill him.”
With those words, Eric took off in flight. He circled Sookie’s home and then her land to make sure all was secure.
As the telepath put the “ancient-looking” Stackhouse family star on top of the Christmas tree, she could feel a particular “ancient” mind entering her range.
“What’s up, Sook?” Jason asked.
“Huh?” she asked, climbing down from the stepladder she’d used to give herself the necessary height to put the last touch on the tree.
“You smiled—just then,” Jason shrugged. “Uh—not that you don’t smile a lot, but—uh—well, it’s hard to explain, but I just ain’t ever seen you smile that smile before. It was all peaceful-like.” He shrugged again and handed her her mug of hot chocolate.
“Oh!” Sookie smiled again, even as she glanced toward the window in the direction where Eric’s mind lingered.
From its position, the vampire seemed to hovering within sight of the house, but she couldn’t see him.
She realized that she would have—in the past—felt that his action was intrusive as if he were checking up on her. But—now that she knew him better, she felt checked on.
He was making sure that she was safe.
And she knew that he wouldn’t come closer unless she asked.
She turned back to Jason. “It’s Eric.”
Over dinner, she’d given Jason a short version of what had happened in Jackson, including her reasoning for breaking up with Bill. Although she’d not told him how bad things were in the trunk—and how close Bill had come to raping and draining her—she’d made clear that he’d hurt her physically. She’d also made clear to Jason that the emotional pain Bill had caused her had already convinced her that breaking up with him was the right thing for her to do.
And then she’d told her brother about Eric—not everything, of course, but the things she felt like he needed to know. For instance, she’d told him that Eric was keeping her safe and encouraging her to consider life goals beyond Merlotte’s. She’d also told Jason that she had decided to date Eric.
“Oh!” Jason said with realization. “You need me to skedaddle so that y’all can visit?”
Sookie shook her head. “No. He’s already gone,” she indicated, realizing that the disappearance of him from her range made her feel a little sad—and a little less safe, despite the fact that she knew that Thalia and several two-natured beings were close by. “He just came close enough to make sure I was safe,” she added.
“Oh!” Jason cried—with some realization in his tone. “You—uh—told me that y’all weren’t serious. But you also said he was gonna give you guards on account of your—uh—head thing and all.” He frowned in confusion. “Seems to me like he’s serious—is all—especially if he’s checkin’ on you without expectin’ anythin’ in return.”
Sookie nodded and sat down on the couch. “I know that Eric’s very serious about wanting to make sure that I’m safe. There’s—uh—some reason to think that other vampires—more powerful ones—want to—uh—sort of use me as their full-time telepath. Without my really havin’ much choice in it,” she added.
Jason’s frown deepened. “Yeah—when you said you was gettin’ guards, I figured somethin’ like that might ‘a happened. And it’s not like you ain’t been hurt lately, Sook. That Rene thing,” he shook his head, “well—especially after Gran—I was worried when you got hurt so bad. And then you came back from Dallas with all those cuts and a hurt foot.” He shook his head. “I’ll admit that I blamed vampires for that all happenin’ to you. But I’ve been thinkin’ about it more.”
“And what do you think now?” Sookie asked, leaning forward.
“I think Rene and them Fellowship nuts were—uh—well nuts,” he said somberly. “Human nuts. Well—uh—not that there are other kinds of nuts, ‘cept there are a lot of kinds of nuts,” he frowned.
Before Jason could inadvertently begin quoting Best in Show, which Sookie had recently rented because of all the dogs on the video cover—and at which she’d laughed hard enough to almost wet herself—she stopped him.
“Yes, Jason. There are a lot of bad, crazy people in the world,” she agreed.
“I worry though ’cause bein’ around vamps has made you a target of the—uh—crazies. But,” he frowned, “if it weren’t you, Rene would’ve targeted another person’s sister and Gran.” He looked down and sniffled before quickly swiping at his eye. “And I reckon that Gran’d have my hide if I hated on vamps just ’cause they were vamps. And then there was that,” he added, gesturing toward Sookie.
“Huh? That?” Sookie asked, unable to even begin to decipher his movement’s meaning.
“The way you smiled just then. You deserve whatever it is that did that for you, Sook. With Gran gone and—uh—me bein’—uh—well me, you need good things in your life—things that make you smile like that.”
It was Sookie’s turn to brush away a tear. “Jase, you’re a good thing,” she insisted, reaching out to give him a hug.
“Thanks,” he said sincerely once they’d broken off the hug. “But you still deserve those smiles—and lots of ’em,” he added.
Sookie smiled at him. “Thank you, Jase,” she said, feeling the gratefulness in her heart well up and then spill over as she looked at her brother, then her “real” Christmas tree, and finally at the chair where Gran always sat. For the first time in a long time, seeing that piece of furniture didn’t eclipse her happiness.
It made it stronger.
It had taken Eric a lot of willpower to pull himself away from Sookie’s home. Although they didn’t have a full bond, the vampire could now feel his blood within her—as well as her emotions—with an intensity that was surprising to him. He had no doubt that the acuteness of the feeling had something to do with her fairy blood. The bonding between creatures of magic was always more intense than the bonding of a vampire with a human.
Though Eric had not experienced bonds other than those he had with his children and his maker, he knew from others and from his studies what to expect from one.
He found himself wondering what it would be like to have a permanent bond with Sookie.
Her emotions would always be a part of him.
Her location would always be known to him.
His blood would forever change her—stir the human blood inside of her to exhibit just enough magic to be able to sense him too.
He couldn’t help but to wonder if a bond might also strengthen—in a permanent way—the magic that was already an aspect of her being.
Of course, her blood would forever change the chemistry of his own, too, adding its mark upon him. He’d read the accounts of vampires who’d bonded—at least those who’d been willing to be interviewed by the few vampires who had taken it upon themselves to become historians of their kind.
Not surprisingly, even those vampires who had allowed their stories to be recorded had not all been forthcoming with their real names or other details that might identify them. What they agreed upon unanimously was that they changed through bonding with another. Usually, they described those changes as being for the better, though there were drawbacks for some. For instance, several had reported “feeling more human” after their bonding—in that they’d been less able to squelch their emotions.
Eric scoffed but then smirked. Sookie had already proven to be a landmine of emotions for him. However, the last 48 hours had taught him that trying to suppress those emotions was what would give him the most intense pain.
Other reports that the vampire had read indicated that having “more human” qualities had been extremely beneficial for the vampires who bonded. They indicated that they had felt more drive and “urgency” about life—as a human might because of their short lifespan.
Even others indicated that they began to feel more compassion for other “species” beyond vampires—a “side effect” that was met with mixed feelings among the vampires who had bonded.
Indeed, before Sookie, Eric had read the stories of bonded vampires as cautionary tales—negative examples that were not to be followed. But now he could not help but to believe that the pros of bonding with Sookie would outweigh any cons. However, the choice would be hers. He’d already committed himself to that idea.
Touching down in the parking lot of Fangtasia after hovering in the air to assess for any potential threats, Eric took out his phone. By the time his call was answered, he was in his office, which was both soundproof and swept for listening devices each night.
“Yes,” answered Franklin Mott.
“This is Eric Northman.”
“Oh,” the vampire said with some surprise. “I had not thought that I had run up my marker in your casino enough to receive a personal call,” he said, unconcerned.
“You have not,” Eric returned. “However, I will forgive what debt you do owe in exchange for a service.”
The line was silent for a moment. “What service could you possibly need of me, Mr. Northman?”
“Your current companion?”
“Oh—you want her?” Franklin asked, his tone clearly indicating that he would have no trouble passing her on to him.
“No,” Eric responded. “But I do want to ensure that she leaves her association with you as a free human—not belonging to another.”
“Mr. Northman, though I have not adopted all of the tenants of mainstreaming,” he relayed with some derision, “I am not in the practice of causing problems. Even when I give my humans to my friends, I am thoughtful in the trade.”
Eric decided not to mention that he’d heard that Franklin’s “thoughtfulness” extended mostly to his own personal benefit rather than to his human pets’ welfare.
“Be that as it may,” Eric responded, “I have an interest in Miss Thornton and will—in exchange for the balance you owe to my casino—require that you ‘break up with her,’ as the humans call it. Moreover, you will ensure that the break up is amicable enough so that she is not averse to vampires.”
“And would this break up need to occur immediately?” he asked.
“The sooner the better,” Eric responded.
“And my entire marker will be torn up?” Franklin asked.
“That is what I said,” the Viking returned slightly impatiently.
“And if I still have an interest in keeping Miss Thornton?” he tested.
“Your outcome would surely be determined by hers,” Eric responded with a hint of threat in his tone.
The line was silent for a moment. “I was beginning to tire of Tara anyway and had begun contemplating Mickey’s interest in her.”
“Mickey is a cruel bastard,” Eric said with derision.
“I had made no firm decisions,” Franklin returned. “And I thought that he’d settled down in recent years.”
“He’s become better at hiding his messes,” Eric informed.
“Oh. Well—that matters not. Being out of debt with you will ease my other burdens. I will sever the relationship with Tara tonight. Do you want me to remove her memory of me? Or to make sure she feels no emotional distress whatsoever?”
Eric considered for a moment as he wondered what Sookie would prefer in this situation. Ultimately, he determined that she would not want her friend’s memory altered unnecessarily. “No. Just make sure that the break up is as easy as possible so that she does not harbor resentment toward our kind. And, Mott, do not let me hear of your giving Mickey any human,” he added with warning.
“Now that I know he is still the same as before, I will not. And I will disentangle myself from Tara before morning,” Franklin said even as Eric hung up the call.
The Viking dialed another number moments later.
“Flood,” came the rough tone of the Long Tooth packmaster. The tone differed from Franklin Mott’s smooth tone about as much as two voices could.
“It is Northman,” Eric greeted.
“Ah. I figured you might check in with me at some point—since your subject has been arranging last-minute guards for a human in Bon Temps. Rumor has it that the human is yours.”
“Sookie Stackhouse is mine,” Eric responded. “Tell me—are you free to speak openly?”
“Yes, sir,” the packmaster responded somewhat stiffly and formally—as he might address a superior in the military.
Eric knew Colonel Flood well enough to know that the Were respected him like a general—not just because of the vampire’s age, but also because of his acumen in battle. The respect between the two was mutual, though the pecking order was clear. To the colonel’s credit, he didn’t begrudge Eric’s dominance. And, to the vampire’s credit, he didn’t demean or belittle the Were.
“As I’m sure you are aware, your godchild was asked for specifically by Thalia for my human’s security detail,” Eric began.
“Yes. Maria-Star took the specific nature of the request as an honor,” Flood relayed.
“You goddaughter has my esteem, Packmaster Flood. “And not just because of her relationship with you. I have heard that she would be a good leader for Long Tooth one day.”
The colonel let out a long sigh. “If I could choose my successor, she would be it—despite her age. But I do not think that the majority of Long Tooth is progressive enough to accept a woman in the role,” he added somewhat angrily.
“I admit that this is the impression I have gotten from my contacts,” Eric returned.
Flood chuckled. “You know, you could just ask me about such things.”
“I know. But Pam very much enjoys being involved in the gossip gathering, and I’d hate to take that from her.”
Flood laughed louder. “Is she still getting most of her information from Donna and Diane?”
“Yes,” Eric confirmed. “The florists are quite chatty and, therefore, great helps in my child’s quest to learn everyone’s business.”
“But they do not know all,” the colonel reminded.
“That is the reason for my call. Thalia is heading the security detail for my human, but I will need a daytime leader as well. I had thought to have Mustapha Khan fill that role.”
“I know of Khan. Damned shame he got kicked out of the marines before ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was taken off the books. He was a good soldier.”
“Yes. And he has honed his skills when it comes to protection in the private sector. But it is his excellence as a soldier that has given Thalia pause. She worries that he is not leader enough and has suggested that Maria-Star be given the role.”
“Shit,” Colonel Flood exhaled. “And you want to know from me if she is ready for such a task?”
“Yes,” Eric confirmed. “Before you say anything, however, I need for you to be aware that Sookie Stackhouse is more than just a human. More significantly, however, she is more important to me than,” he paused, “perhaps any other being.”
There was silence on the line for a moment. “What is she?”
“The working theory is that she is part fairy. Regardless of specifies, however, she has a skill that will be coveted. She is a telepath. Make no mistake—whomever is on her security detail may face danger and must be ready to die in Sookie’s stead,” the vampire said passionately.
“And the Were in charge will need to be the first in line to protect her—to set the example for the others,” Flood concluded.
“Yes. Sookie is too important—too important to me—to lose. Thus, I will not accept failure. I require the best to make sure that she is safe.”
Colonel Flood responded with no hesitation in his tone. “Then choose Maria-Star. She will not let you down.”
“You understand the danger?”
“Yes. And she will too,” the Were returned. “Like your human, Maria-Star is special—too special to waste away without the opportunity to have a voice in a pack that isn’t quite ready to dive into the future. I know that—in the role you will have her do—she will excel and be given the chance to prove herself. Hell! She might even change a few minds so that—when I do finally have to choose a successor—the pack will be ready for her.”
“Alright then,” Eric responded. “Would you like to inform her?”
“Yes,” Colonel Flood said quickly. “I would. Thank you for that. After her parents died, she became more a child to me than a godchild,” he added, his rough voice made even gruffer by emotion.
“I will inform Thalia,” the vampire said before hanging up the call. As much as he was willing to stretch his “emotional legs” for and with Sookie, he wasn’t ready to stay on the line with his ally if the Were was going to display his emotions for his godchild.
Indeed, Eric was grateful that his burgeoning feelings for Sookie hadn’t affected his discomfort with emotions in general. That would have been the last thing he needed, given the potential threats he and Sookie might soon be facing.
Hello all, I don’t have time for any sort of author’s note tonight (heck-I almost didn’t have time to post this I’m so busy getting ready for my classes tomorrow), but that doesn’t mean I won’t ask you to for your comments (if you have the time and inclination).
Have a wonderful week!
P.S. Congrats to Alexander Skarsgaard for his Golden Globe win.
Oh–I’m including the wonderful banner of Bobby that Seph made. Sorry I didn’t have it for you when he was actually IN the chapter, but I forgot to ask Seph. Thanks Seph!!!